She is beauty. She is grace. She is dairy princess of the entire county.
It’s that time of year again—time to choose the next dairy princess who will accept the crown with poise and carry out her duty of representing the local cheese industry. For those of you who do not come from a part of the country where “dairy princess” is a normal title, this is not a joke. The practice of choosing a dairy princess is a well-respected and carefully deliberated tradition in many communities. Some counties have had dairy princesses in their history for over half a century. Talk about a twist on your traditional fairytale.
In places like Snohomish County in Washington state, this crowning has been going on for 60 years. Recently the county changed the title “dairy princess” to dairy ambassador, but all contestants remain women. In fact, the coronation is sponsored by Snohomish County Dairy Women, who started the competition in 1955.
Back then, the organization was called the Dairy Wives. These women felt choosing a dairy princess would be a good way to share information about the industry—which was rapidly changing and moving away from canned milk—with consumers. With co-sponsorship from the Washington State Dairymen’s Association and written guidelines from the American Dairy Association, the Dairy Wives started what would become a revered competition and tradition. Since 1955, over 800 young women have become Dairy Ambassador and acted as a spokesperson for the dairy industry.
Many other states where a large part of agriculture involves dairy farms also subscribe to the practice of choosing a dairy princess. Counties in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota, and South Dakota (just to name a few) all believe in the importance of having a diplomatic young lady represent one of their greatest contributions to the economy. The dairy princess has a host of responsibilities that come along with her title, similar to those of any Miss America contestant—except, of course, that all of these responsibilities involve milk and cheese.
Qualifications for competing to become a dairy princess normally require the applicant to be the daughter, granddaughter, niece, or sister of a dairy farmer, dairy farm manager, herdsman, or person employed in the dairy industry. A woman is also eligible if she herself is employed in the dairy industry, owns or leases at least one of the seven major dairy breeds, or has already served a full year as a dairy maid/ambassador. Once selected, the princess commits to a year-long position. She will be required to attend school programs and discuss the health benefits of dairy products, as well as how dairy producing animals are treated on farms. The position also requires appearances at parades, county fairs, and farm meetings. Basically, the princess has to be a master at public relations.
For young girls who aspire to hold the title one day, positions open for ages as young as four. Winners are placed on the promotional court as dairy ambassadors, dairy misses, and dairy little misses. Think of the process as a beauty pageant where the focus is not on appearance, but on knowledge and love of the dairy industry.
It’s a competition, so keep your eyes peeled for your local winner. See that girl, watch that scene, I have no doubt you’ll be digging the Dairy Princess.
Feature Photo Credit: “Dairy Princess” by Chriss Haight Pagani | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0